What the world needs now: more saints

Journey to canonization renews pilgrims’ faith, desire for holiness

ROME—Challenges were overcome. Friendships were born. Faith was renewed.

Those were the blessings some 45 faithful experienced on the April 25-May 3 archdiocesan pilgrimage to Rome to witness the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.

On their journey the pilgrims dealt with vast crowds – 800,000 at the canonization Mass – who overwhelmed St. Peter’s Square and also filled the other sites the group traveled to the week after the historic sainthood-making liturgy.

Along the way, they learned about the history of the Church in Rome, seat of the Catholic Church since the first century A.D., and were awed by the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, where popes are elected, and of St. Peter’s and the other major basilicas in Rome that were either designed or include works by great artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini. And they were inspired by the lives of the saints and martyrs they encountered at Assisi, birthplace of Saints Francis and Clare; in the St. Callistus catacombs, where St. Cecilia was originally buried; and the Colosseum, where gladiator fighting took place and Christians, including St. Ignatius of Antioch, were fed to wild beasts.

They also got an exciting up-close look at Pope Francis as he drove by them in his popemobile prior to his April 30 general audience at St. Peter’s Square.

“The highpoints were going to the canonization and seeing the pope during his general audience,” said Patrick Lana of Christ on the Mountain Church in Lakewood. “What I didn’t expect was seeing the beautiful churches and experiencing the power they had, the feeling you got when you entered them.

“The pilgrimage was wonderful,” he said, adding he was moved by the spirit of love he experienced and was stirred to avail himself in the future of opportunities to share his faith with others.

Lana’s wife, Annette, who is a convert to Catholicism, said: “I understand better what a pilgrimage is. I’m taking away a renewed spirit—a renewed sense of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

She also gained a deeper appreciation for Mary as the mother of all Christians after feeling her presence at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the largest Church dedicated to the Blessed Mother in the Eternal City.

“I’d never really understood praying to the saints and praying the rosary before.”

It was also enlightening for the youngest member of the group, eighth-grader Lowell Dillon of St. Vincent de Paul Church and school.

“I learned a lot about Church history,” he said, “and the saints and martyrs and how they died for their faith.”

Pilgrims said they went to see Pope Francis and his predecessor, and to be part of history as John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II, who implemented it, are the first popes to share a canonization date, and who Pope Francis described respectively as “the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit” and “the pope of the family,” in his homily.

“In these two men … there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy. The hope and joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and joy which nothing and no one can take from them.”

Hope and joy were “palpable” in the first Christians, which was “a community that lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity,” Pope Francis said.

And it was present among the pilgrims who went to honor the new saints and who carried the intentions of others with them.

“I took away a powerful sense of community, not only with the people on the pilgrimage but also with the wider Church,” said Patty Garner of Immaculate Conception Church in Lafayette, echoing the sentiments of others. “We took care of each other—everyone just jumped in and became part of a new community together.”

Noël Stewart, of the NeocatechumenaI Way at Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder, said she was struck by how all are called to live and to work with God’s grace, which is always present.

“I see that if we’re open to one another as John Paul II said, ‘to be not afraid,’ how quickly we can bond and become brothers and sisters of one another.  I’m filled to the top with overflowing joy and grace. I feel a call to pass that on to people.”

The canonization reminds us that we are all called to be saints, said Father Bob Schwartz of Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina, Minn., who joined the archdiocesan group with a dozen of his parishioners.

“What the world needs,” he said, “is more saints!”




COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.